What is the human cost of the global economic crisis? How many people will the crisis prevent from escaping poverty, and how many will remain hungry? How many more infants will die? Are children being pulled out of schools, making it virtually impossible to reach 100 percent completion in primary education by 2015? What are the gender dimensions of the impacts? These are some of the questions as the global economy comes out of the worst recession since the Great Depression.
The deepening global recession, rising unemployment, and high volatility of commodity prices in 2008 and 2009 have severely affected progress toward poverty reduction (Millennium Development Goal [MDG] 1). The steady increases in food prices in recent years, culminating in exceptional price shocks around mid-2008, have thrown millions into extreme poverty, and the deteriorating growth prospects in developing countries will further slow progress in poverty reduction. The prospects for an economic recovery, essential for alleviating poverty, are highly dependent on effective policy actions to restore confidence in the financial system and to counter falling international demand. While much of the responsibility for restoring global growth lies with policy makers in advanced economies, emerging and developing countries have a key role to play in improving the growth outlook, maintaining macroeconomic stability, and strengthening the international financial system.
Economic growth is central to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and related development outcomes, and a vigorous private sector is vital for strong and sustainable growth. The private sector drives job creation, increases in productivity, and economic growth.1 Private sector jobs provide most of the income in developing as well as developed countries. Revenues from private sector transactions and incomes pay for many of the public goods provided by governments. Competition can help spur technological advancements and productivity gains that are the key to sustained long-term growth.
Historically, periods of sharp contraction have been extremely harmful for human development. Social indicators tend to deteriorate rapidly during economic downturns and improve slowly during economic booms. Moreover, vulnerable groups, such as children and women, are more exposed to the effects of growth volatility.
The recovery of the global economy has been more robust than expected. Driven by strong internal demand in many emerging economies and the recovery of global trade, GDP growth in emerging and developing countries is projected to accelerate to 6.3 percent in 2010, from 2.4 percent in 2009. Supporting the economic recovery are expansionary macroeconomic and, especially, fiscal policies. Fiscal deficits in emerging and developing countries, up by almost 3 percent of GDP in 2009, are projected to remain high in 2010. More than in previous crises, many countries sustained spending plans and raised social spending to mitigate the effects of the downturn on the poorest people, although the differences among countries are wide. While financial market conditions for emerging and developing countries are improving and capital flows are returning, international bank financing and foreign direct investment are projected to remain weak in 2010.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) strongly emphasize human development-related outcomes, with five of the eight MDGs having health, nutrition, and education results as key indicators for monitoring progress. Governments have a special responsibility to their citizens, especially their poorest citizens, to ensure attainment of primary education, basic maternal and child health and nutrition, and control of communicable diseases. Previous Global Monitoring Reports have largely focused on strengthening this government role. Yet experience in many countries, including some of the poorest, shows that the private sector is also extensively involved in the delivery of services that address these MDGs.
How will the global economic crisis alter precrisis trends in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)? With only five years left until the target date of 2015, it is obvious that several of the MDGs will not be attained, globally or by a majority of countries. Many of the goals are too high for low-income countries, given their low starting points. Many countries, including low-income ones, have seen substantial gains in recent years, however, and entered the current crisis in a stronger position than in past crises (chapter 1 and chapter 2). Important questions are whether the gains will be preserved, and what happens if the fragile recovery slips into a prolonged stagnation.
The global financial crisis is impacting an increasing number of developing countries. Low-income countries, which had previously been relatively shielded from the immediate effects of the crisis, are now particularly vulnerable. They are facing shrinking export markets, sharply lower commodity prices, and declining growth rates. The global crisis has raised the risk of poverty and hardship for households in poor countries—about 40 percent of developing countries are highly exposed to the poverty effects of the crisis, and a majority of them are in Sub-Saharan Africa. At the same time, the weakening of economic activity is depressing fiscal revenues in these countries, even as social, infrastructure, and other public spending needs are rising. More than half of low-income countries could see a decline in revenue-to-GDP ratios in 2009. But most low-income country governments will not be able to make up the shortfall in their budgets by borrowing domestically or internationally. The increased fiscal pressures are placing the delivery of basic services at risk and constraining these countries’ ability to undertake countercyclical spending.
External competitiveness and access to international markets are paramount for poor countries to realize the development promise of international trade. Pressing ahead with trade openness is a powerful means for countries to help mitigate the impact of the financial crisis and enhance prospects for economic recovery.
The global economic crisis severely reduced developing-country external resources by drastically curtailing their export revenues and their access to private capital flows. As elaborated in previous chapters, the resulting decline in economic activity sharply increased poverty and impaired public services to the poor. To a degree, the international system worked effectively to support developing-country access to external resources and limit the rise in poverty. Despite initial fears, increased trade restrictions in reaction to the crisis affected only a small part of international trade. Bilateral donors increased aid (at least through 2008), and the international financial institutions (IFIs) dramatically increased their lending. As the global recovery has taken hold, developing-country export revenues have begun to recover, and their access to external finance to improve, although both remain well below precrisis levels.